Alimony is a payment that one spouse makes to the other during and/or after the divorce process. In Texas, the court calls these payments "spousal maintenance" or "maintenance."
Either spouse can request maintenance during the divorce process in Texas. However, the court can only award support if the requesting spouse doesn't have enough property at the time of the divorce to provide for basic needs, and at least one of the following circumstances exist:
Texas law begins every maintenance case with the presumption that spousal maintenance is not appropriate. However, if requesting spouses can demonstrate they have made a good faith effort to earn an income or acquire the education or training necessary to become financially independent during the separation and divorce process (and still need support), the court will move forward with a maintenance evaluation. (Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 8.053.)
The court will evaluate the following factors to determine the nature, amount, duration, and payment method of support:
Texas law requires judges to follow strict guidelines when deciding the duration of maintenance awards. If the judge orders a spouse to pay support because of a physical or mental disability, duties as a custodial parent of an infant or young child of the marriage, or another compelling reason, support can continue for as long as the conditions exist. The court may order a periodic review of the support order in the future. (Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 8.054 (2).)
For all other maintenance orders, support is limited by Texas law to:
With the exception of a physical or mental disability, custodial parent, or other compelling circumstance, Texas law requires judges to order support for the shortest duration necessary for the supported spouse to become self-supporting. (Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 8.054 (2).)
Maintenance orders will end before the termination dates if:
Texas is unique in that, unlike many other states, the law limits the amount of support a court can order. Maintenance awards may not be more than $5000 per month or more than 20% of the spouse's average monthly gross income (whichever is less). (Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 8.055.)
It's common for a judge to order periodic payments (usually monthly) of spousal maintenance. The court may issue an income withholding order, which directs the paying spouse's employer to deduct maintenance payments from the paycheck and forward it to the proper court agency. (Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 8.101.)
The court can modify (change) spousal maintenance orders if there is has been a material and substantial change of circumstances since the first order. Until the court formally changes the award, the paying spouse must continue to follow the requirements of the current court order. (Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 8.057)
It's important to understand that until the judge hears your request for an alimony modification, you must continue to follow the court order. Failure to comply with a court order is a serious offense and may result in severe penalties, such as attorney's fees, bank liens, or time in jail. Supported spouses who aren't receiving court-ordered payments can file a formal request with the court for help enforcing the order.
The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act significantly impacts spousal maintenance. Before January 1, 2019, paying spouses could deduct maintenance payments from their income, and supported spouses reported and paid taxes on the income.
However, for all alimony agreements and/or court orders finalized on or after January 1, 2019, maintenance payments are no longer considered income for the recipient or a tax deduction for the paying spouse.
If you're unsure how the new tax law impacts your bottom line, speak with an experienced tax and divorce attorney near you.